Airlines are increasing staff and cutting flights to avoid a repeat of last year

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Booking a flight in 2021 hasn’t always meant plug a flight in 2021. That’s because, as you may recall, thousands of would-be travelers who showed up at airports throughout the summer, fall and winter have had their flights canceled.

Airlines have faced staff shortages, Covid outbreaks and increased travel demand in recent months and are working overtime to ensure that doesn’t happen this summer.

Economy Class Economy

Despite rising fuel prices reportedly prompting George Clooney to opt for economy class more, evidence suggests Americans are clinging to their vacation plans as if it were their freedom. TSA agents screened more than 2.3 million passengers at U.S. checkpoints on Friday, the busiest travel day since the pandemic began, excluding Thanksgiving 2021.

US airline customer service phone lines have withstood countless angry callers for more than a year as they adjust to fluctuating waves of demand. Two weekends ago, the industry canceled more than 3,500 flights, with bad weather in Florida adding to the stress. Last weekend, low-cost airline JetBlue canceled 300 flights. After losing billions during the pandemic despite billions in public aid, airlines promise to smooth their schedules by summer and ideally stabilize their balance sheets after so much turbulence:

  • One approach is to cut flights: JetBlue has hired more than 3,000 new crew members, but says it is still understaffed and will cut flights by up to 10% by May, according to President Joanna Geraghty.
  • Another is to move forward: American Airlines has so far met its goal of hiring 180 pilots per month this year. In total, US airlines plan to offer 16% more seats compared to last summer, according to aviation analysts Cirium.

“Operations personnel will be on a knife edge,” said Tim Donohue, co-founder of flight disruption analysis firm Aerology. The Wall Street Journal. “The razor’s edge barely works when things go as planned.”

No space in the upper compartments: Airline credit card spending is now above 2019 levels, according to JP Morgan, and the $83 billion in U.S. travel spending in February was just 6% below 2019 levels, according to the US Travel Association. It was the second best month – after December 2021 – since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, 85% of Americans say they expect to travel this summer, including 46% by air.

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